[Special Correspondence of FIRE AND WATER.]



WESTMINSTER, S. W. Feb. 29, 1896.

Fatal fires in its most congested districts form one of London’s specialties. One of these occurred on the morning of Sunday, the 16th inst. in Church street, Soho, a locality where nearly every building bears upon its face the characteristic marks of the days when Charles I. was king. Internally pretty much the same arrangements and wood fittings of 250 years ago exist now at the end of the nineteenth century, everything being, of course, as inflammable in material as it is old in years. The hour of 2 o’clock a. m. saw the lire discovered by the police. The nearest fire department was half a mile off and it took eleven minutes for the call to reach it. In four minutes, however, the engine was on the spot. Meanwhile the lire had made big headway.

The building was of three stories with an ordinary steep well staircase, and the fire is supposed to have originated in a smouldering mattress, which the first floor tenant had put to dry before the fire. At the time of the outbreak the police officer on entering found the stairway already alight, and although the occupants of the ground and first floors escaped, nine out of the seventeen inhabitants lost their lives. One man living on the second floor, after vainly attempting to save his wife and three chiidren, jumped from the window, and, falling upon the spiked railings in front, was impaled, sustaining injuries from which he died two days later, lie was but twenty-eight years of age and his eldest child was not yet four. The mother was found with part of the bedclothing clinging to her, clasping in her arms the bodies of two of her little ones. Another family of five, one, a crippled boy aged thirteen, lost four of their number, the mother, on the discovery of danger, having gone to the assistance of her lame son, and carried him as far as the second floor, where both were overcome. The premises from the ground floor upwards were entirely gutted, the staircase from the first floor and roof being wholly consumed. The inquest, which concluded on Friday last, resulted in an open verdict, it being considered that the probable cause of the disaster was the offending mattress.

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